HR & Culture / Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Patrick Caldwell, Head of People at FundApps

Patrick Caldwell is the Head of People at FundApps, a tech startup that helps investment managers stay in sync with worldwide regulations, working of the New York office.

This conversation is sponsored by graphic design platform Canva. Empowering millions of people around the world to design.

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’ve spent most of my career in HR roles throughout the mining and utilities industries in Australia and the UK. It ranged from working on site at coal mines in central Queensland, to corporate roles in both HR and Supply Chain Management.

Most recently, I’m the Head of People at FundApps, a small bootstrapped regulatory technology company, in our New York office. Being a small company, my role has a lot of breadth so day-to-day I am involved in anything from coaching leaders, recruitment, performance management and looking at our reward & benefits package.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Our HQ is in London which means by the time I wake up, I am normally playing a little catch up from what’s been happening with our London team.

We are a Slack-based company so it’s much the same as working through your WhatsApp or Facebook messages rather than having to manage an inbox (which we use for external communication).

I’m an early bird so usually I aim to catch up on what’s been happening in London before I leave to head to the office. This can be everything from questions from our people leaders on managing their teams, to updates on any issues overnight or anything I’ve needed input on from the previous evening when Londoners were asleep.

Our New York office is very small. Just 10 of us! But that’s what makes it one of the most engaging and enjoyable teams I’ve ever been part of.

I get a great deal of joy and passion from being part of a remote team like this where everyone plays a part in defining and building our culture in the office. I often say this during interviews to candidates but I love the fact that whilst we take our work and our clients very seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

People Ops roles are generally a mixture of planned projects and work and reacting with flexibility to circumstances as they change, so a day in the life is hard to predict with any level of certainty. Coming in to FundApps as the first People Ops hire has meant a long list of planned projects – designing performance systems, our first salary framework (and keeping the market data up to date), managing payroll and benefits across 5 countries, recruiting new FundAppers to come on board, etc.

The reactive work is often less sexy but still valuable to the company and people – dealing with conflict between team members, helping coach someone to think a little bit differently about a situation, working with a leader to experiment with a different leadership style, and sometimes having difficult conversations with people when it relates to their behaviors or performance.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

As I write this, I am in lockdown in New York due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a tech company we are lucky to be able to pivot to be a remote working business pretty quickly. A lot of companies and people are doing it tough at the moment so it’s certainly not lost on us how fortunate we are to be in the situation that we are in at FundApps.

Current circumstances aside, FundApps is a company where flexible and remote working is pretty normal. We are 65 people across 5 offices so we’ve learnt to operate both remotely and across time zones. But even more than that, flexible work has been normalised as part of the culture.

As a B Corp we measure our company performance on a combination of financial, environmental, societal and people performance. So we have a belief that we can achieve far more success as a company if we simply trust our people to do what is necessary to do a great job and hold ourselves to account through our contribution and output rather than our presence in an office. We worked out recently that around 90% of FundApps employees work flexible hours regularly.

For me, flexible work means something a little different. I have a very short attention span so the idea of being at my desk from 9-5 makes me want to vomit!

I start early to align more with London HQ and also give myself some quiet time to think before anyone gets into the office. 80% of the work I need to get that day usually happens by midday, and I’m very flexible with my own hours in the afternoon depending on my energy and productivity levels. I usually work from home pretty sparingly when I need a decent amount of time to really focus in a quiet space – think salary reviews, budgeting, preparing for difficult conversations, etc.

Other than that, I enjoy the New York office culture too much that I generally try to be in the office as much as possible.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I’ve been pretty committed recently to living very close to the office. I spent several years earlier in my career with 1-2 hour commutes and found immense wellbeing benefits from living close to the office, even if it means slightly higher rent and a smaller place.

My view on work-life balance has matured as my career has progressed. I very much see work as part of my life rather than competing with my life. I have found success in aligning what I need to achieve at work with when my productivity and energy levels are high rather than conforming to anyone else’s notion of ‘when’ work should be completed.

If you mapped out my ‘work week’ it would look a bit weird – From 6am-12pm a lot of work gets done each day. Sometimes the day starts at 4am because I’m up and ready to go! Very little happens in the afternoons as my energy dips pretty quickly so I’ll often find some time to exercise and then revisit what I need to in the evenings.

Likewise on weekends if I’m feeling particularly amped about something at work I will happily work all day on it. It’s pretty irregular! Sometimes, if I’ve had a big Monday-Friday I’ll find myself happily having two days in a row of not talking to anyone. It’s very peaceful 🙂

I’m fortunate at the moment to be in both a role, a company and working for a CEO where it is clearly important what I deliver and why, rather than when I’m working on it.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

At risk of sounding like a LinkedIn ‘Influencer’ telling people to wake up at 4am, make a smoothie, meditate, go to the gym then ride to work every day, I can genuinely say that early morning starts for me have been critical to my career and performance to date. Except instead of a smoothie it’s a shot of coffee, instead of meditating it’s singing in the shower, and the gym is replaced by taking the long walk to work IF I am feeling motivated that day!

I don’t think my best habit is specifically the early mornings though. It is what the early mornings represent, which is when I’m simply wired to do my best work and think most clearly. This for me is the basis of career wellbeing. Finding when you operate best and aligning routines to that to get the most out of those conditions.

Since moving to New York I’ve rediscovered my love of sport. I was never a gym person. I hate it with a passion! So in the Summer here I’ve been part of a few individual and team sports events – mostly tennis, squash and rugby – and it’s coupled fitness with a mental recharge, as well as helping to make a few friends along the way.

It felt uncomfortable at first because I usually find new team sports intimidating but the routine itself of playing regularly in a team environment does wonders for my mental and physical health!

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I have a love-hate relationship with books due to my very small attention span. A few books have had a profound impact on my views on people and trust, but most I find myself becoming impatient with if it’s beating around the bush.

Work Rules by Laszlo Bock, Powerful by Patty McCord and Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. All three have a strong People Ops focus to them but more broadly are really sage reads when it comes to redefining what wellbeing is at work and the complexities of human relationships and behaviors.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Walk. Plug the cheesy 90s pop music playlist into Spotify and walk for an hour or two every single day. I have a strong introversion preference but spend my days interacting with people, so that time to simply be present with myself whilst walking and to recharge my batteries is huge.

I often find a side effect of this also helps my work as I can think more deeply about something I’m working on and bring that perspective to work. It also helps if you’re like me and hate the gym!

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

At the moment, it would be Jacinda Arden. I have an immense amount of respect and admiration for the political challenges she has faced in her time in office, the stereotypes she’s breaking as a woman, and her considered, thoughtful and transparent approach to everything she has been involved in.

I would love to know more about how she recharges mentally and perhaps some of the experiences that have contributed to her resilience.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Experiment with things to see what sticks. There are thousands of so-called experts ready to sell you the secrets to the perfect work-life balance but the reality is that we all need to find what works for us as individuals!


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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.